American Airlines is closing its San Francisco base, potentially displacing 400 flight attendants.
Two-thirds have worked for the airline for 13 years or more, according to union calculations.
10 flight attendants told Insider that a myriad of factors make it difficult to leave the Bay Area.
The mass email reached the inboxes of some flight attendants mid-flight.
“Today, it is with great regret that I report to you our decision to close the SFO flight attendant base,” American Airlines executive Brady Byrnes said in the September memo obtained by Insider. .
In closing its San Francisco base, citing economic factors and changing customer demand, American presented 400 flight attendants with a choice many deemed impossible to make: Leave the airline or leave the state.
The base is home to some of the carrier’s most experienced flight attendants, two-thirds of whom have worked for the airline for 13 years or more, according to the union representing American Airlines flight attendants. By Jan. 31, they must select an airport from a list of airline hubs outside of California to work from. For those who can’t or won’t, the only options are to retire early (if eligible) or quit, the union told Insider.
In interviews, 10 SFO-based flight attendants told Insider that a myriad of factors made it difficult to leave the Bay Area. (Some asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs, but Insider verified their identities and jobs.) Some are single mothers, others have health issues, others have children with special needs. . Others have divorced spouses with joint custody of their children, aging parents or partners who cannot uproot their careers.
“This is my home,” said Marcia Brown, a San Francisco-based flight attendant of 38 years.
An American Airlines spokesperson said it had decided to no longer have flight attendants based in San Francisco due to logistical factors, including the changing size of the airline, changing customer demand and fleet changes.
“As we look to the future of our network, we expect San Francisco to maintain the same level of flight as it does today, but there are no plans to expand San Francisco and no prospects for future flight. based on our current network strategy,” they said. said.
Most SFO-based routes rank poorly in terms of profitability compared to other US network routes, according to aeronautical analysis firm Cirium. This year, the carrier has reduced the volume of flights from San Francisco by about a third, Cirium told Insider.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law requiring workers to be given a break every few hours actually applies to employees of California-based airlines.
Some SFO-based flight attendants suspect they don’t have the option to transfer to Los Angeles – a larger US hub – as the airline could exit California altogether.
American would have a “good business reason” to do so, John Masslon, senior counsel at the Washington Legal Foundation, told Insider, particularly given the airline’s $37 billion debt.
“You might have situations where the plane can’t take off because it has to wait for a rest break or a meal break,” he said. “Planes will not be able to land and this will have a cascading effect on delayed flights and disrupt the whole system.”
A bitter end
At 64, Brown plans to retire early, although he wants to continue working.
“It’s hurtful that I gave them 38 years of my life and that’s how I get out,” she said. “I hate leaving feeling angry and bitter. I wanted to leave sad because it’s been a great career.”
Flight attendants who cannot retire early or relocate will have to commute, which in the airline industry means flying on hold to and from their new base.
SFO’s closest bases are Phoenix and Dallas, 2-hour and 3.5-hour flights respectively, and not all 400 flight attendants involved will receive their first picks. Younger employees may be forced to commute across the country, adding dozens of unpaid hours to their schedules.
Cynthia Duarte, a 38-year-old veteran, fears the extra time she’ll have to spend traveling will make it impossible to care for her husband, who has terminal brain cancer.
“At the moment I’m only going one day, twice a week and he can barely handle that. You add a three-hour commute to that and my time away triples,” Duarte said. “I never thought that at our age we would be dealing with a disease that makes every moment count. We don’t know how much we have left.”
Many of his colleagues are in equally difficult situations.
A single mother and flight attendant in her 20s is unsure how she would get around and find extra childcare for her young child, who needs an insulin pump changed every three days. A 30-year-old veteran battling a life-threatening illness says she can’t afford to lose company health insurance, so she plans to fly the three hours to Dallas and back for each shift .
Anthony Cataldo, a 33-year-old flight attendant, said he planned to fly to the US base in New York – a 5.5-hour flight for which he will compete with other flight attendants for a seat in waiting. He estimates that travel will cost him up to $700 a month between hotel rooms, which aren’t provided by the company in a situation like this, and parking.
If a flight attendant misses a shift due to a lack of spare space, only three missed shifts per year are allowed. After that, each missed shift results in two “points” of attendance. Employees with 11 points are subject to termination, in accordance with American’s attendance policy.
A flight attendant, a single mother who has worked for American for more than 20 years, said she was looking for a new job to avoid having to move or commute out of state. “I don’t have anyone anywhere else. That’s where my family is. That’s where my support system is.”
A denied dream
In an industry where seniority determines hours and pay, each year brings flight attendants closer to working international flights, higher wages of $68.25 per hour, and more schedule flexibility and customization. For many, it’s an end goal that can make the low starting salary, night shifts, and grueling reserve hours worth it.
The decades of experience in trying to achieve this lifestyle are now effectively lost, a flight attendant told Insider.
“I put in over 20, and now they’re telling me I might not be able to put in the rest of my years,” she said. “My plan was to retire at American.”
At a public meeting Sept. 27, company officials told SFO-based flight attendants that after several calculations, the carrier determined that operating a base in San Francisco was not everything. just not financially viable, according to an audio recording shared with Insider by a verified source.
Some employees expressed confusion about why they had to leave San Francisco if the carrier was still to operate SFO flights. American has specifically expressed its intention to keep flights at the same level as today, which means the airline will have to use flight attendants based at other airports.
Considering the airline also said it would continue to hire new flight attendants, several crew members said they felt the airline wanted to replace its veteran staff with much less new employees. well paid.
“We have a 17-year-old daughter who is graduating from high school this year and an 11-year-old daughter. It makes no sense for me to ask my family to move,” said Louis Rangel, who started working for American in 1988 and grew up in the Bay Area, said.
“I don’t know how to start over,” he continued. “It’s hard for a lot of us to think of someone you’ve been devoted to for over 30 years, and then, no, that’s it: take it or leave it.”
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